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12 Common Questions About Teaching In Dubai

Updated: Jan 19

Let’s jump straight into it! Here are 12 questions (and answers) I am regularly asked about teaching in Dubai in the UAE.

Thomas Blakemore teaching in Dubai

1: What is time off like?

When it comes to time off, there are a few things that we need to cover. First of all, the working week has very recently changed from being Sunday to Thursday to Monday to Friday, to strengthen the UAE’s links with much of the western world, who also work Monday to Friday. Although this change in working days was something I know a lot of people were worried about, I think overall, people really do now appreciate the UAE’s intentions to strengthen its relationships whilst also boosting the work-life balance and enhancing the social well-being of its citizens and expat residents alike due to the introduction of a 4.5 day working week. That is, government organisations, schools and many other businesses have to close by 12pm on Fridays so the working week does not interfere with Friday sermons and prayers.

We also have national holidays and the national holidays cover the Islamic calendar along with UAE specific holidays too. Within the Islamic calendar, celebrations such as Mawlid (the observance of the birthday of the Islamic prophet Muhammad), Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha are all holidays which usually means schools are closed, depending on when these holidays fall in relation to the the academic calendar. The length of time given as ‘holiday’ also varies; on some occasions it has been 1 day off, while on other occasions up to a week has been granted to celebrate these occasions. This is also true of UAE specific holidays such as Commemoration Day (also referred to as Martyrs' Day), UAE National Day and UAE Flag Day.

It is also worth noting that Ramadan takes place during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar each year, and schools operate on reduced hours to support students, families and staff who observe this holy time.

In terms of academic school holidays, these can vary from school to school, but generally, most private British curriculum schools will have a half-term break towards the end of October, similar to the UK. Currently, we have a 3-week Winter Break which does usually fall over the Christmas and New Year period, although it is not recognised or referred to as a ‘Christmas holiday’. Then from there, February can vary - some schools have opted to keep a full one-week half-term, while others have opted for a shorter half-term break (2-3 school days) in favour of finishing slightly earlier at the end of the academic year, in July. Between then, there is a 2-week Spring Break to mark the end of Term Two. Sometimes, this falls just before, during or after Easter, so it is worth noting that it is not an ‘Easter Holiday’ as it would typically be referred to in the UK. In Term Three, we don’t usually have a half-term or May ‘Whitsun’ holiday so it can feel like a much longer term. Although, depending on when Ramadan ends and Eid begins, we do sometimes have time off work within that term to celebrate Eid.

2: How many meetings do you have?

This completely depends on the school, but for myself, I normally have a subject specialist meeting as I am the Head of Humanities at my current school. Also, I usually always have a planning meeting and a year group meeting. There are also times when we will have a whole school and/or a Junior school only meeting too.

Often, a lot of those meetings will happen during the school day because my children will go to specialists such as Arabic, PE and Performing Arts, which then frees up a slot of my time where I can attend particular meetings like the year group meeting or my subject specialist meeting.

There are some meetings, such as the whole school ones, that will happen either in the morning before school starts or after school. But again, this completely depends on the school that you go to. Sometimes, schools may just request that meetings happen after school as a general rule, but for the most part, most schools out here are good at trying to arrange meetings during the working day.

3: Is there funding for your classroom?

Is there funding for you to sort your classroom? Yes and no. Again, this will very much be personal to each school in terms of what budget they have, how it’s allocated and who/how/when it can be spent. For me, there is funding at the end of the year, and my year group get together and think about the resources that we need for the following year so that then, when we come back after the summer, we all have a box of different resources, whether it's display paper, glue sticks, stationary, all those different things. It's quite an exciting time of the year, but you don't generally have big pots of budget that's like “here you go, Tom, this is yours to go and spend on your classroom”. It's usually a year group budget.

Then, as the Humanities subject leader, I also have a budget specifically for Humanities that I can spend. Year groups will then often come to me and ask if they can have specific resources to support their year group with teaching Humanities within their classes.

This is the same for all other subject areas, so there are quite a few different budgets for different areas, but again, it’s worth checking with individual schools as each will be slightly (or perhaps very) different.

Primary school classroom in Dubai
Year 3 Classroom in Dubai

4: How often are report cards?

As with the previous questions and answers so far, this will vary from school to school. For me, we have two reports. We have what we would call an interim report which generally goes out during the first term to inform parents about how their child has settled into school life and how they are interacting and socialising with their peers and adults. Then, we have our end of term reports too. So in comparison to the school I taught at in the UK, where we only had one report per year, it is more, but that could be because I teach in a private school and because parents pay for their child’s education, and so the communication is more frequent to align with the fees that they pay.

5: How frequent are parent meetings?

Continuing on from the previous question, about the frequency of parent communication, I would say that parent meetings are about as frequent here in the UAE as they were for me in the UK. I have two formal parent meetings throughout the year but I would say that there is increased communication here in the UAE, in terms of frequency of emails and because most schools have an open door policy.

6: Does your class get to go on trips?

Yes, we do go on trips (Covid dependant!), and they are amazing. I have been on some amazing school trips with my classes to places like Dubai Frame, Old Dubai and The Green Planet. It's also currently a really exciting time for schools as Expo 2020 is going on so there are lots of opportunities to visit and learn about the other countries, cultures and their ambitions of becoming more sustainable and environmentally friendly. I have created a whole range of videos about Expo, if you are interested in learning more about ‘The World’s Greatest Show’.

Along with that, I've heard of many other different field trips, too, such as going up the Burj Khalifa, a place called KidZania which is this huge play area with lots of role-play and learning opportunities, which as you can imagine is really exciting for the students (and teachers!)

Although I personally haven’t experienced them, at my school and many others, there are also international trips to places like Borneo, skiing in Europe, etc. which again, is just incredible. Another of my personal favourites, is the residential trips available here in the UAE at different adventure centres, so as you can see, school trips in the UAE are pretty epic (Covid dependent!)

Teaching in Dubai The Frame, Dubai
One of my first school trips to The Frame, Dubai

7: What technology do students have access to?

Following on from the last question, as I work at a Google school, my students all have Chromebooks. With this, we use a lot of apps and sites such as Google Classroom, Google Slides, and all of those different bits and pieces attached to Google Education.

Along with that, we really do have a plethora of technology at my school. It's really exciting because we have things like Tello-drones, recording equipment for podcasts and other cool things like that. Basically, we're really well-equipped when it comes to technology, but different schools work differently. Other schools will have their students use iPads because they’ll be Apple schools, or other schools might have Windows operating Laptops if they’re Microsoft schools. There are all sorts of different things at different schools, but that's how my school operates. Generally, though, students at private schools here in the UAE have great opportunities when it comes to technology.

8: Are there professional development opportunities?

In all honesty, I would say that there were more available pre-Covid as there was a lot more opportunity to go and visit different schools to develop professionally. However, even with the Covid restrictions, I would say that professional development in the UAE is good. Again, depending on the school, there are opportunities to attend courses delivered by external speakers or companies, observe other teachers within your own or other schools, or for professionals to come into school to deliver training/seminars.

There's all sorts of different systems at different schools, so it just completely depends. I know some schools make professional development optional while others don’t necessarily ‘force’ it, but make it clear that it is an expectation that teachers engage in some form of professional development. Perhaps this is a good question for you to ask when it comes to an interview, especially if you have something specific in mind. On that note, I've previously made a video about all sorts of different interview tips and things that you can ask at an interview. There is also an extensive section in my UAE Teaching Guide about interview questions YOU could ask schools.

9: Do schools offer extracurricular activities?

Yes, they do. Some schools will call them ‘Enrichments’, while I know others, including mine, calle it ‘ECAs’. it easy. Regardless of what schools call them, the range of activities that are on offer is usuall incredible, and very often, a selling point of the school. Activities available include things such as debate club, technology clubs (usually more specific and skill based), podcast club, art club, various sports clubs, games club, reading club, etc. On top of this, there is also usually swimming and performing arts (including drama and musical theatre) available too.

In terms of what the expectations are of teachers to run or deliver extracurricular activities, this very much depends on the school. For myself, the expectation is that we need to do two per year.

As I mentioned earlier, extracurricular activities are often a big part of the school culture and a major selling point, so it is worth thinking about what skills you have to offer to schools when you’re applying for positions and interviewing. Again, I have a lot more information about how to make your CV more desirable in my that’s definitely worth checking out.

10: Is there an expectation for you to plan as a team?

Is there an expectation for you to plan as a team or do you just do it all yourself? Well, we plan as a team, which is really. But there is also that expectation that you adapt it and tailor it for your class to the wider your school, the big your school. There are some massive schools out here. We're talking like 10 to 12 classes in some schools.

The more you're likely to need to tailor that to your specific class because classes really can vary and teachers' planning standards can vary too. At the same time, we will then have meetings to be able to plan effectively, and then we will then communicate those different plans to each teacher so that they are able to then take those, tailor them and teach them effectively to

thomas blakemore primary school teacher
A photo from team dressup day

11: What is the management and admin team like at school?

Each school will differ depending on the size of the school but I can talk about my school. We have a whole school Principal and then, because it's quite a big school, it's split into Primary and Secondary phases, with a Junior School Head and Senior School Head. Then, within each phase (Junior and Senior school), there are two Deputy Heads. Following this, you have Heads of Years and Heads of Departments who form the Middle Leadership Team.

Along with that, you have additional staff bodies such as the cleaning teams, who are amazing! They're there all the time to support you with the spills and splashes and things like that. They have also been doing an incredible job of ensuring everywhere is regularly sanitised and as Covid safe as possible. Security is something that was different from my time in the UK and something that took me by surprise. They are so friendly and do a brilliant job of keeping the school safe. On top of this, we have an additional staff (an operations team) who help with running the school, repairing anything that needs repairing and moving things, etc. We will also have additional staff to support us with running other areas of the school such as someone who is in the auditorium setting technology, we have a reprographics team who support printing, laminating and all other resource preparation.

Moving on, because we are such a large school with so many staff, we have our own HR department (which is quite common in a lot of schools in the UAE) and financial team who assist with anything money-related such as fees, payments to staff, school trip costs, etc.

As you can see, it really is a HUGE team effort to keep a school successfully operating in the UAE.

12: What is the dress code like (male/female)?

As with all of the previous questions, check the specific requirements with your school as this can vary. As a male, I am expected to wear full-length business/suit trousers (other schools will allow smart chino style trousers) with a shirt (long or short-sleeved) and tie. There are other schools where male staff can wear smart shorts, smart jeans and smart polo tops but this tends to be rare and usually only on ‘dress down' days. If I have more formal events at work such parent meetings, inspections, etc. then I am also expected to wear a blazer/jacket.

In terms of females, you are expected to wear smart dress and there are expectations that must be followed in terms of lengths of skirts/dresses and sleeves. Some schools can be quite specific with this expecting full arm length and full leg length, whereas other schools will just expect you to cover your shoulders and skirts/dresses to cover the knees. Again, this is something to check with individual schools. Another point to add, is that male or female clothing should not be see-through or gaping/revealing.

I hope that these questions and answers have been useful to you. If you have any further questions, check out my Teaching in Dubai Guides where I have covered a whole plethora of topics and questions.

If you have any more questions, please feel free to leave a comment below or reach out to me on any of my socials.

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